Puryear sets new season-high, pulls self and MU out of rut

The senior has posted a low-scoring average this season, but exploded in Saturday afternoon’s defeat of South Carolina.
Missouri forward Kevin Puryear talks with a film crew about his 18-point performance after the MU vs. South Carolina men's basketball game on Saturday, March 2 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

Kevin Puryear’s senior statline has not reflected that of a four-year starter.

After averaging 11.5 and 11.8 points per game his freshman and sophomore seasons and 8.6 in his first season under coach Cuonzo Martin, Puryear’s average PPG has been slashed nearly in half from what it was back in 2015-2016.

“Going into the season, everybody expect Kevin, he at least would average 10, 12 points a game,” Martin said.

One could argue his performance this season has been reflective of Missouri’s as a whole — the Tigers stand at No. 12 in the SEC with only four conference wins — in that, for most, it’s been wildly disappointing.

“I think I’ve really just been puttin’ a lot of pressure on myself to perform well and kind of inside my own head, cause I want to do so well,” Puryear said. “I love this school, I love my team. Really just wanna bring everything I can to the table, but I think it got to a point where I was just overthinking the game. I really been playing this game since I was 5 years old. I know how to play the game.”

However, on Saturday afternoon against South Carolina, Puryear played like it was senior night, setting a new season-high of 18 points, 5 points more than he’s scored in the past four games combined.

“I think Kevin’s a senior, he’s one of the leaders on our team and as of right now to the end of the season I know he’s gonna keep playing like that,” Torrence Watson said. The freshman outscored Puryear by 2 points and led the Tigers in their 78-63 victory.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Tigers, who only have two more regular season games before heading to Nashville, Tennessee for the SEC Championships.

Puryear played 26 minutes, sank 8-of-9 shots from the charity stripe and set a new season-high in both free throws made and attempted.

“One of the ways I get myself going is getting to the free throw line,” Puryear said. “So I really just tried to make a conscious effort of just being really aggressive today, getting the ball to the rim, just driving it whenever I see lanes and just making the right play.”

Puryear also had six rebounds and three assists, playing a substantial role in keeping SC big and fellow senior Chris Silva off the glass.

“I was happy to see [Puryear] play well,” Martin said. “He’s obviously had his troubles scoring the ball. I thought he stuck with it. Spent more time in the gym these past couple weeks, just really start to dig deeper and that’s the result of a guy who wants to be successful in life.”

Recognition of Puryear’s standout performance came from the other side of the ball as well.

“I was real happy for him,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. He loves playing against us in this building, I’ll say that. Everytime we come here, he usually plays his tail off against us.”

Puryear recently became the newest Tiger to reach the century mark, having started in 116 games for MU. He is on pace to finish fifth all-time.

With 1,199 career points prior to Saturday’s contest, Puryear has already surpassed Missouri legend Norm Stewart and moved to No. 28 on Missouri’s all-time scoring list. He is also just the fifth Tiger with at least 1,000 career points, 500 career rebounds and 115 starts, joining the likes of Stewart, Kelly Thames, Steve Stipanovich, Arthur Johnson and Derrick Chievous.

“You know, a player as good as Kevin, a game like that was bound to happen,” junior Reed Nikko said. “You’re not gonna keep him down too long.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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